The Roundup for August 1-31, 2019 Edition

(My Most Popular Photo by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.”

Great Photography Shots

The whimsy, symmetry, and lines of these bowling alleys make me want to go bowling in Germany!

Music I’m Digging

  • My ‘Songs I Liked in August’ playlist is done, and is biased pretty heavily towards rap, R&B, with some metal (i.e., TOOL).
  • Dave – Game Over (EP) // ’My 19th Birthday’ and ‘Question Time’ are really amazing tracks that showcase Dave’s ability to engage in contemporary social and political issues in the UK, but which also affect most developed countries. The former song grapples with the challenges he has with his first major relationship, questioning how he should behave and how he can overcome his own patriarchal attitudes towards women. The latter is an anthem for the UK under Prime Minister May, where has asks her, along with all other major UK politicians, the hard questions that were likely on the minds of most socially consciously citizens of the United Kingdom.
  • Dave – PSYCHODRAMA // This full-length album continues Dave’s encounters with himself, and situations of himself growing up in South London. His flow remains as strong as his earlier work, and continues to work through the challenges of growing up socially conscious, in a time that often feels more ignorant, racist, and nationalist then decades past.
  • TOOL – Inoculum // Their first new album in 13 years, the technical instrumental skills alone make this 80+ minute album worth the listen and the wait. But it’s more than that: Keene’s lyrics continue to impress, while deftly floating in and out of the instrumental scores.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Secret History of the Future – Dots, Dashes, and Dating Apps // This is a fascinating episode that showcases just how much the telegraph, and writers of that era, imagined the uses of the Internet which are now commonplace. As always, everything old is new again, and it behooves is to attend to our pasts to both foretell the challenges of the present as well as better envision new futures.
  • Planet Money – The IT Guy vs The Con Artist // It’s fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look of how the US Postal Office was able to take down scammers using an insider. The bravery exhibited by the protagonist in the episode, Filipe, and willingness to right wrongs, makes this a particularly positive episode to listen to.
  • Modern Love – The Night Girl Found A Day Boy // Modern Love has to be one of my favourite podcasts, and I really enjoyed this episode’s story of how the couple overcame a major and inflexible difference to develop a long lasting and positive committed relationship. Throughout, I was thinking about how much a couple can push through if they’re able to stand side by side together to support one another, while simultaneously appreciating and respecting one another’s differences.
  • The Daily – Inside Hong Kong Airport // The ongoing protests in Hong Kong are pitting democratic values against those of autocracy, and protestors are valiantly trying to secure their democratic processes. The reportage in this podcast drove home, at an emotional level, just how committed protestors are, as well as the seeming indifference or disbelief amongst mainlanders that individuals could rise up against their government on their own, and without having been manipulated by foreign government spies.

Good Reads

  • Ham of Fate // Without a doubt this is the most scathing, and articulate, assessment of Boris Johnson that I’ve read to date. Of particular note is the ways in which Johnson masks a very deep racism through elite language. Whereas Trump is blatant and boorish, Johnson is slightly more subtle and studied.
  • What Apple’s T2 chip does in your new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro // Gallagher has a pretty accessible, and extensive, article outlining everything the T2 chip is doing in Apple’s newest devices. I knew about the security properties but was unaware of the audio and image processing it also is involved in.
  • The forgotten part of memory // I’ve been pretty convinced for a long while that perfectly recording and remembering information is detrimental to a person’s life, on the basis that from an evolutionary and social perspective we have forgotten information and seemed to still persist and evolve as a species. Research in Nature showcases the apparent truth that forgetting is normal and important, and that we may do it to abstract away some details of precise encounters so as to build up abstract thinking that’s suitable to solving a range of problems, instead of being overly mired in the details of solving very specific incidents and experiences.
  • Combating disinformation and foreign interference in democracies: Lessons from Europe // Though written to derive lessons for the United States Government to learn from, this article from the Brookings Institute does a good job outlining the successful, somewhat successful, problematic, and disasterous responses to adversarial disinformation and influence operations campaigns. Ultimately, however, the crux is mostly missing from the article: should states and their populations truly fear disinformation—is the Swedish approach genuinely useful or is it, perhaps, just that some populations can sense disinformation when they see it? Regardless, the comparison between actions undertaken by Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, and Bulgaria provides a handy overview of some policy options available to democratic states, if not effective assessments of the utility of such options.
  • Influence Operations Kill Chain // Bruce’s assessment of the elements of effective influence operations is pretty on the money, though I do have to admit I’m partial to the comments made by Jones, which recognizes that while it may be hard to deal with influence operations, there are things that the government can do to address issues which arguably have much more significant (and problematic) roles on election fairness. These issues include: 1. Gerrymandering; 2. Deregulated political spending; 3. Systematic black disenfranchisement; 4. Black box electronic voting machines; 5. VoterID laws; 6. Drug felons who can’t vote; 7. Domestic for-profit news propaganda; and 8. Campaign strategies to game the Electoral College. Still, even fixing the aforementioned list will do little to prevent information operations from, over a long-term, threatening democratic integrity as clefts in society are identified and widened in efforts to decrease trust in the democratic system itself.
  • Housing Crisis Grips Ireland a Decade After Property Bubble Burst // Things in Ireland, like major cities in Canada, are terrible if you want to either rent or own. In effect, rent prices are too high to enable saving for a downpayment while, at the same time, owning is sufficiently affordable that — if people want — an owner can save up for another downpayment, and the cycle simply continue.
  • How the El Paso Killer Echoed the Incendiary Words of Conservative Media Stars // It’s one thing to strongly believe that the language of the American right wing is fuelling the violence, hatred, racism, and misogyny being expressed by a host of white supremacists throughout the country. It’s another to have the very words of American media commentators placed against the language of the President of the United States and white supremacists alike.
  • Acquisitions Incorporated Review // I’ve been on the fence about the new D&D sourcebook based on Penny Arcade’s adventuring groups. On the one hand, I appreciate the humour of the games but I wasn’t certain about whether the gaming supplement that’s emerged from those games was just Wizards cashing in on the popularity without adding real substance. This review has mostly convinced me that this is a neat supplement that I might want to add to my (growing…) collection of gaming books.
  • Facebook’s Illusion of Control over Location-Related Ad Targeting // This deep dive into how Facebook tracks location showcases just what a lie it is that you can exercise control and stop the company from tracking your location. Well researched and yet another indication as to why this is a malignant company that needs to be heavily regulated.
  • Do not Fall in Love with a Smart, Introverted Man // While some of the assertions of introverted men seem a bit off — we’re not all messy or nearly as eclectic as Lowe makes us out to be — I can appreciate this line: “One day, he will decide to leave you. It will be sudden and swift with no warning.” The thing is…I don’t think that’s true. The messages which communicate warning are made, deliberately and regularly, but are often unheard. And that failure to hear us is, in and of itself, one of the reasons why we may have decided “quietly, independently — because that is how he has solved every problem — that it’s over.” There’s a fundamental values mismatch, and communications mismatch, and potentially even an intellectual stimulation mismatch, and so the introverted man is making a decision they know is correct. Even if that’s not what the other partner thinks or wants.

Cool Things

  • Trails of Wind // While in our conceit, humanity may believe it changes the world without regard for the environment, a mapping of how we actually terraform the earth can showcase that we unconsciously, as a species, build in accordance with global environmental patterns and characteristics. I wonder, though: as climate forces changes in the jet stream, will we end up with monuments to the past that are left abandoned or will we, instead, re-engineer these monuments so as to continue using them?
  • The World’s Greenest and Most Economical Shelving System? // This shelving system is substantially based on Dieter Ram’s design philosophy and design language. While it’s expensive as hell, once invested you’d never need to buy shelves again in your life. Definitely want!
  • The Best VPN Services // The Wirecutter has done terrific work sifting through various VPN providers to identify solid choices. If you use or want to use a VPN then check out their work!
  • Paramour: A One-Shot Music Video Filmed From the Perspective of a Toy Train // Just a cool bit of filming!

The Roundup for July 14-31, 2019 Edition

(Confused Exposure by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


I’m in the process of determining what new camera I want to buy, principally to replace my aging Sony rx100ii. That camera was bought in used condition, and has been to four continents and taken approximately 20K shots. It’s been dropped, frozen, and overheated. And even gotten a little damp from salt air! It owes me little and still produces solid (black and white) images: it seems that in my abuse I did something to the sensor, which means colour images sometimes just turn out absolutely wacky.

So what do I want versus what do I need? I know from my stats that I prefer shooting between 50mm-100mm equivalent. I know that I want a fast lens for the night.1 I don’t take action shots so I don’t need the newer Sony cameras’ tracking magic. I don’t want anything bigger than the Sony—it’s size is a killer feature because I can always carry it around—but definitely want a pop up viewfinder and a 90 degree tilt screen. I don’t want another interchangeable system: my Olympus kit has me covered on that front.

What do I want? I’d love to have easy access to an exposure dial. An internal ND filter would be super great. Some in-body image stabilization would also be stellar, and if I could squeeze in the ability to charge from a USB battery pack while keeping prices under $1,000 that would be perfect. Oh, and something better than Sony’s pretty terrible menu interface!

What don’t I need? Any more than 20MP, actual waterproofing2, a big body or permanent viewfinder, an APS-C sensor, audio-in features, dual SD card slots, or crazy fast tracking.

This currently means I’m very interested in some of the older Sony rx100 cameras—namely the iii and iv—and maybe the new Canon G5Xii. I know my actually photographic outputs are, in order, Instagram, my TV, photos on my wall (no larger than 24×36”), and then photo books. I know a 1” sensor is more than enough for all of those uses. Now I just need to see how the Canon’s reviews shake out, the cost of them, and then evaluate the differential between Canon’s and Sony’s cameras!


Inspiring Quotation

Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.

  • Marc Riboud

Great Photography Shots

I have a set of abstract photos that I’ve taken over the years and, to date, while I appreciate them they aren’t ones that I’ve decided to print or routinely display. Still, several of the below abstracts (taken on smartphones) are inspiring just to look at and think about the process of developing the respective compositions.

(‘Last ices of the winter‘ by @paulenovemb)
(‘Untitled‘ by @lisalam628)
(‘Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier‘ by @bazillus)
(‘Untitled‘ by @reneetakespics)

Music I’m Digging

  • Goldlink – Diaspora // Goldlink’s album is a terrific summer album: lots of pop notes with a taste of Caribbean beats and good mix between somewhat gravelly male and ethereal female voices. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to while writing or reading, working out, or just doing chores around home.
  • Machine Gun Kelly – Hotel Diablo // I’m still trying to really get a handle on what I think of this album, but I’ve definitely listened to it a lot over the past week or two. I think I’m appreciating it principally for its nostalgic value: it has a lots of beats and sounds from late-90s/early-00s nu-metal and rap. So I don’t think that it’s ‘quality’ per se, but definitely speaks to my younger self.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Lawfare – Jack Goldsmith Talks to Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter // To begin: I’m never a huge fan of a Secretary of Defense who is a strong advocate for war, and Ash Carter is definitely that class of Secretary. However, he provides a superb view of the entirety of the Defense Department and what goes into running it, as well as the baseline challenges of both engaging in offensive cyber operations as well as the role(s) of legal counsel in developing military operations. If you want an insiders view of the different layers of the Pentagon, and how the institution has developed over the past few decades, then this is a great episode to listen to.
  • Frontburner – What did Canadian peacekeepers accomplish in Mali? // Richard Poplak has a non-nonsense, direct, discussion with Michelle Shephard of just how little value Canada derived from its half-billion dollar peacekeeping commitment to Mali. At least part of that failure is linked to how Canada’s foreign policy had to be entirely recalculated to deal with Donald Trump when he was elected President but certainly everything cannot be laid at Trump’s feet.
  • The Secret History of the Future – Meat and Potatoes // I have to admit, I never really thought about how important potatoes were to the Europeans in establishing a reliable source of caloric intake, nor how you could connect the potato with contemporary efforts to find new foods to both feed the contemporary world and save the environment at the same time. If you want to think a bit more about the source of your food, today, and what it might mean for your food, tomorrow, then this is a solid episode to sink your…ears?…into.
  • The Secret History of the Future – Infinite Scroll // Proving once more that everything new is really just the old reborn, Slate examines how Renaissance scholars were entirely overwhelmed by information and had pretty well the exact same issues with information, then, as contemporary societies do with the growth of the Internet and rapid spread of information. It’s interesting to hear how scholars and the public fought against things like indices, tables of contents, and reviews of books; similarly, today, we hear people push back against any and all efforts to summarize, synthesize, or distil books, articles, and (even) podcasts. The commonality between the arguments of yore and today are largely identical, which speaks to how important it is to take history into account when evaluating the travails of the contemporary era.
  • Lawfare – Jonna Mendez on ‘The Moscow Rules // Ever been curious about the different tricks that were used by CIA case officers in Moscow during the height of the Cold War? Then this is the episode for you! Mendez, a former CIA officer, recounts the various techniques, technologies, and troubles that the agency developed and overcame in the process of engaging in espionage against the most equally matched adversary in the world on their home turf. Though mentioned somewhat sparingly, there are lessons to be gained from the stories she recounts from her time in the Cold War, including the very real value (at the time, for the USA) of obtaining military technology secrets well in advance of the technologies entering production: with these secrets in hand, as an example, the USA successfully built in countermeasures to Soviet radar systems. Today, you can imagine how the Chinese government’s theft of American and other allies’ military secrets may similarly position that government to develop countermeasures much, much faster than otherwise expected.

Good Reads

  • ‘Orientalism,’ Then and Now // Shatz’ review of Said’s Orientalism and application of its key insights to the geopolitical changes in how the Other is conceived of — as now a threat, not because it is external and to be created through our knowledge of it, but because it is within us and is changing ‘Us’ — presents a stark view on the era of racism, fascism, and ignorance today. Whereas the orientalism that Said focused on was, principally, that linked to elite power-knowledge constructions that served the West’s practices of colonization, today’s is born of a deliberate lack of expertise and knowledge. Whereas the past cast the Other as external and a threat, today the Other is within and consequently domestic politics is the focus of elites’ aggressions. While Shatz is hesitant to assert that the end is nigh, his hopefulness towards the end of the essay is perhaps not as hopeful as he imagines: there are, indeed, efforts to defray, mitigate, and prevent the contemporary situations of hardened and violent orientalism. But despite the power and influence of art it remains unclear to me how effective these cultural acts of resistance genuinely are against a structural practice of aggression, harm, and ignorance.
  • Congress Will Ignore Trump’s Foreign Affairs Budget Request. Others Will Not. // Both chambers of the US legislature are opposed to the significant cuts that the Trump administration has sought in its budget appropriations. However, the signals sent by the administration have meant, internal to the State department, that staff resistant to democracy promotion have enjoyed enhanced status and positions in pushing back against attempts to preach American values abroad and who are, instead, advancing the transactionalist style of politics favoured by the current administration. Simultaneously, autocratic leaders abroad have taken the administration’s stance as a signal that their activities are not going to be denounced, or strongly opposed, and sometimes even supported, by the American government. While all of these signals may change following the next presidential election (though perhaps not!), the denigration of the State department is not something that can be remedied by electing a new president: it will take decades to rebuild trust, restrengthen ties, and hire and train new staff. The long term effects of the Trump administration will be felt throughout the world for a very, very long time regardless of whether he is currently in the White House.
  • Doug Ford’s Legal Aid Guarantee // This quotation from Spratt’s assessment of the Ontario government’s cuts to legal aid speak volumes: “Unrepresented accused are also more likely to be steamrolled in our courts. You see, our justice system is adversarial and only functions if the adversaries – the prosecution and the defense – are equally matched. An impoverished, marginalized, or unsophisticated self-represented litigant stands no chance against the well-funded state. With odds stacked against them, many unrepresented accused are coerced into pleading guilty, even when they are not. Because of Ford, there will be more wrongful convictions.” Worse, given that legal aid is being cut to assist in bail hearing, more accused will simply plea out so that they can go home and work the jobs they have to try and survive; losing the job they have could have catastrophic consequences, as could being unable to get home to care for their young family members. Ford’s cuts won’t save money in the short term and will almost certainly lead to increased court time and costs, and remuneration to those improperly convicted, going decades into the future.
  • The Future of the City Doesn’t Have to be Childless// I fundamentally agree with the premise of the article written by Love and Vey. Cities are very much being designed without families—or, at least, middle and lower class—families in mind. I agree that parks and other amenities are needed, as are spaces to facilitate youth development and lower income housing. But that isn’t enough: housing has become an investment space, where hundreds or thousands of properties are traded in an instant by holding companies, and where developers are building for investors rather than residents. We need to correct the market by pushing market forces out of housing development: rental buildings need to be prioritized for development, and developers of high rise condos obligated to pay significant fees to foster inclusive social properties around their buildings. Doing anything less just picks around the edges of the catastrophes propagated by the market in urban environments.
  • The Future of Photography // I keep thinking about what kinds of cameras I want, and why, and whether I really need them given the technical characteristics of contemporary cameras. I think that this post significantly, though not quite entirely, captures my current thinking when it’s author writes: “Today all modern cameras give you an image quality that is good enough even for the most demanding applications, in fact most of us will never use their full potential. What we usually do is to make a photo book now and then but most of the time the pictures will be displayed on the internet or on our TVs. So the ever increasing resolution makes no sense anymore. If your camera has 24MP you trow away 66% of the pixels in case you display them on a 4K TV in case you use them for the internet it is 90% or more. If you change to a 61MP camera you just trow (sic) away more pixels. … I think the real key is to offer a satisfying shooting experience so that you just want to take out your camera to take some pictures. A nicely handling camera with a good shutter sound and solid lenses with a real aperture ring is all it takes. That’s why I think Fuji has grown so popular.” The only thing I’d add is this: I really, really like flip out screens and the ability to see what I’m shooting in the bright sun through a view finder.
  • Why we fight for crypto // Robert Graham has a good and high-level assessment of why calls by the US government to undermine the security provided by contemporary cryptography are wrongheaded. Worth the read to recall why all the current Attorney General’s calls, if adopted, would endanger individuals and society, and constitute irresponsible policy proposals that are not supported by an evidentiary record of requiring such modifications to cryptography.
  • How to Prevent and Treat Tick Bites and Lyme Disease // Part of a broader, and frankly disturbing, special series on ticks and the dangers they pose, Heid’s short article gives you all the information you need to limit the likelihood of getting bitten by a tick, and what to do should you discover one on you, and how to respond should lyme disease symptoms appear.
  1. Recognizing that a ‘fast’ compact lens isn’t really all that fast when looking at full frame or even APS-C equivalencies.
  2. I’m in love with the idea of shooting in the rain, but not so much the actual getting wet part, so I don’t think I need full waterproofing and most camera can take a bit of light rain here or there in my experience.

The Roundup for July 1-13, 2019 Edition

(Skydancers by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


For the past few weeks I’ve been running a group of players through the Dungeons and Dragons adventure Princes of the Apocolypse and while, on the one hand, it’s been a lot of fun I’m having to make a lot of adjustments to get the adventure properly started. Specifically, I’m fixing the way that the adventure absolutely fails to really foreshadow things. This lack is a serious problem in my opinion; the players don’t really get exposure to the different weird cults, the power organizations’ members (e.g., Harpers or Zhentarim), or other mysteries in an organic fashion: instead, DMs are tasked with dumping a lot of information on the players in (to my eye) awkward and blunt ways. Making things worse, the major ‘hook’ in the adventure — the travelling troupe from Mirabar — just comes out of nowhere, with the PCs not really appreciating the group’s significance or reasons for why the PCs should really care.1

To address some of these limitations, I started my players in Neverwinter and as a part of an adventuring society, ‘The Order of Three Feathers.’ After meeting with the heads of their society and, also, organically receiving a few early adventuring hooks the PCs went off to the region to investigate bizarre occurrences. On their trip I dropped in the Starsong Tower adventure, with modifications: a hill arose near them during the night, with light being emitted from a crack in the side. Within, they found a lost fortress of Lathander (God of the Rising Dawn) which had been discovered, and converted, by members of the Cult of the Eternal Flame. My modifications mostly just entailed rescinding the adventure, and replacing Savrin (the spectre) with Savrin (a Flame Guardian). All of the cult members were, also, members of the Bronze Lions adventuring party: I intend, later on, to use this enemy adventuring party as a kind of band of hunters, who will seek to disrupt the PCs and other cults. Also, the dead adventurer carrying the wand of mending turned out to be a Harper agent (denoted by a Harp pin on the body) who was working in service of the Culture of the Crushing Wave.

Before the PCs start into the Feathergate Spire adventure, where they’ll run across yet another cult, I’ll be exposing them a little more symbology surrounding the Elder Elemental Eye so they’ll be keyed to watch for, and be mindful of, its symbol in relation to any of the cult symbols. The goal of all the foreshadowing is to organically make the later information the PCs collect be more understandable. As the module is written, at least to my eye, the players are expected to make pretty wild jumps to link all the groups and clues; hopefully the early additions (and frequent little notes and such I plan to add throughout the sessions) will help to reveal the actual plot and transform a principally dungeon-crawl game into something that’s more dramatic and epic from a storytelling perspective.

 


Inspiring Quotation

“The simple act of paying attention can take you a long way.”

— Keanu Reeves

Great Photography Shots

Paul Johnson’s work, showcased at Colossal, reveals the power of water and its ability to transform lands and spaces humans have terraformed and built upon.

Music I’m Digging

It turns out that I liked a lot more songs in June than I’d expected. The 53 songs bias towards rock, rap, and pop, and are from about a decade and a half or so of different albums. I’d totally forgotten about Bran Van 3000’s “Drinking in L.A.”!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Agenda – The Problem with Plastics // This robust discussion engages with the benefits brought by plastics—massive reductions in food waste and other efficiencies are often discounted in speaking about the environmental harms linked with plastics—while also striking down some of the optimism about perfectly reusing or recycling plastics. I was shocked to hear that plastics use is only expected to reach an equilibrium by 2050 at the earliest; we’re going to get a lot more of this in our environment before we even consider reducing the actual amounts used on a daily basis.
  • Cyber – How Google Tracks Hackers // Ever wanted to know how Google thinks about, and responds to, the threats facing the company and its customers? This short podcast very nicely explains the rationales behind some of the company’s decisions and, also, how much the different threat intelligence companies privately communicate with one another to better understand the global threat landscapes.
  • Wag the Doug – How To Promote Friends And Alienate People // It’s incredibly frustrating to learn just how corrupt the current Ontario provincial government is behaving, and made that much worse by realizing how incompetent the people receiving the patronage appointments are for their allotted positions.
  • Lawfare – Mike O’Hanlon on the ‘Senkaku Paradox’ // This interview’s one of the eeriest I’ve listened to in a very long while. O’Hanlon provides a detailed rationale for why asymmetric consequences are suitable when or if adversaries seize territory that is strategically insignificant but demands a response due to either NATO or other mutual defense agreements. The thrust of the argument is that the West, and in particular the nuclear-armed Powers, need to find a way of possessing a gradual and significant escalation ladder that reduces risks of unexpected and potentially lethal escalation. If you think about kinetic, cyber, and diplomatic national security tools then this is a podcast that should be on your must-listen list: you’ll probably learn a lot and walk away unsettled about just how confused and confusing the escalation ladders amongst regional and world powers are currently.

Good Reads

  • The Hero Who Betrayed His Country // Weiss’ article on how an Estonian solider—an ethnic Russian who was a firm proponent of post-USSR Estonia—was turned by Russia’s military intelligence (GRU) and subsequently exposed information to Russian handlers over an extensive period of time is instructive of how contemporary efforts to recruit agents isn’t really all that different from the Cold War era. Many of the tactics and efforts that worked fifty years ago still to work, and speak to how human intelligence officers continue to prey off common flaws, weaknesses, and fears latent in a wide spectrum of the population.
  • What Does Putin Really Want? // Commentators often attempt to put the Russian government’s actions over the past few decades into a broader strategic context to grasp the goals of its leaders. Topol argues that Russia’s activities are best understood as a state opportunistically reacting to American withdrawals as opposed to attempts to force its way into the international stage. While there are elements of the argument that are certainly less robust, it does provide a reasonable and pragmatic argument to explain the Russian government’s activities as opposed to flights of fancy based on presumptions of Russian tactical genius.
  • Homeward Bound // Without a doubt, this is one of the more beautiful pieces of writing I’ve read in a long time. It focuses on the process of bringing rescues from the American South and up to New England. Throughout it, the strength and compassion of the protagonist, Heather Hobby, shines through, as does her absolute love for the animals she saves. And if by the end of the article you’re not in love with Tink then something’s probably wrong with you.

Cool Things

  1. Also: how are they supposed to really care about rescuing them when I can’t figure out why the hell they should care?

The Roundup for June 24-30, 2019 Edition

(Paradise? by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


When I first really realized that I liked photography, it was while I was using the Fuji X100. The experience of shooting with it was really special but, unfortunately, I had to sell it during some unpleasant financial times. In its stead, I picked up (and have extensively used) a Sony RX100M2 and, later, an Olympus EM10ii. I’m a huge fan of both of those cameras, and I’ve been forcing myself to learn manual shooting (in black and white) with the RX100M2 over the past few months.

But…despite the fact that I’m really happy with how my photography has developed over the past year or so, I keep lusting for another Fuji camera. I’d like to imagine that the reason is I want to enjoy the colours of the Fuji line. I’m sure that’s (almost!) true! But, really, I think it’s more that I appreciated the aesthetics of the X100, that I disliked the reason and rationale for having to get rid of something that I loved, and that the idea of constraints in photography appeal to me.

So, what has me burning tens-of-hours per week on looking at cameras? It’s mostly associated with thinking if I want to get a X100S or X100T or X100F, or instead shift over to getting something like the Fuji X-Pro 1 (or even, perhaps, the X-T1) and a 50mm equivalent lens. I really like the idea of spending a lot of time shooting manual at 50mm, as 35mm just hasn’t ever come naturally to me. But the Fuji camera that I fell in love with was the X100…and so a rangefinder-style body is definitely what I really want to have on my shelf…

At the same time, I’m wondering if I should just hold out and either see if the next iteration of the X100 line comes with weather sealing, or if I should instead wait until there’s something interesting from Olympus, or just invest all of the money I’d dump into a Fuji system into some new 50mm equivalent glass for the M4/3 system…


Inspiring Quotation

“Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Great Photography Shots

This work by Greg Girard (posted at My Modern Met) is just…wow…In his series of shots taken in the 1970s and early 1980s, Tokyo looks like Blade Runner or other truly classic science fiction movie or as described by the sci-fi authors of the time.

Music I’m Digging

I’m really loving Thom Yorke’s Essentials playlist from Apple Music.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • OPPO – You Have No Constitutional Right To An Abortion // The two topics of the show — abortion rights in Canada and the Liberal government taking credit for being advocates of homosexual rights — are really well covered. Gerson’s assessment of the laws and politics around abortion in Canada was useful for dispelling a lot of the myths around what can, and can’t, be done to a fetus in Canada, and Ling has a good critical analysis of the federal Liberals’ actual work to support gay rights. OPPO is typically crazy solid in what they assess, and this episode is no exception.

Good Reads

  • What I Learned Trying To Secure Congressional Campaigns // Without a doubt, this article is one of the most exceptional pieces of practical advice on developing security training that I’ve come across in several years. It’s filled with good, accessible, explanations of what is possible, what works, and what is impossible or doesn’t work, when attempting to provide practical security advice to political parties or campaigns.
  • Hypersonic Missiles Are Unstoppable. And They’re Starting a New Global Arms Race. // Smith’s long form article in the New York Times Magazine makes clear that the research being into hypersonic weapons, absent serious diplomatic engagement to establish terms on their (non-)use, could potentially amplify the international risks associated with great-power conflicts. Such weapons could render much of America’s existing military infrastructure moot in a war fighting situation, where great powers were actively seeking to disable one another’s core land- and sea-based military infrastructure. To put it in perspective: Russia might strike at the Pentagon with only five minutes warning, or China at Guam in under ten minutes, the or USA at China’s inland missile bases in ten to fifteen minutes.

Cool Things

  • House DZ // This is a beautiful piece of minimalist architecture.

The Roundup for May 21-June 22, 2019 Edition

(Tap! by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


So Apple has announced all the big changes forthcoming in iOS 13. While lots are great and exciting, the update still won’t bring baseline feature parity between MacOS and iOS core applications. The result is that serious users of consumer MacOS applications can’t fully transition to iOS or iPadOS. What’re just two baseline things that are missing, from my self-interested perspective?

1. Smart lists in Apple Music & Apple Photos

I get that smart lists may not be everyone’s deal, but self updating lists are pretty important in how I manage and organize data. To give an example, I use smart lists in Photos to determine what camera I used to take which photo. Does this matter for lots of people? Probably not, now that smartphones have colonized the photography business. But for someone like me who wants to know such metadata, the absence of it is noticeable.

2. Detailed information about photographs in Apple Photos

I don’t know why, it you can’t check aperture, shutter speeds ISO, or other basic camera features in Apple Photos, in iOS 12 or 13. Nor can you create a title for a photograph. Again, as someone who takes tens of thousands of photos a year, and reviews them all to select a rarified thousand or two ‘keepers’ each year and titles many of those kept, I really want to record titles.1 And it drives me nuts that I can’t.

I get that there are a lot of pretty amazing things coming in iOS 13. But can’t these pretty table-stakes things come along? These aren’t ‘Pro’ features: there’re the baseline features that have been available on consumer apps in MacOS for years. You shouldn’t need to own and use a Mac to enjoy these capabilities.


Inspiring Quotation

“Society is not some grand abstraction, my friends. It’s just us. It’s the words we use, which are the thoughts we have, which determine the actions we take.”

– Umair Haque

Great Photography Shots

I really appreciate some of the great shadows that come out in these shots over at Mobiography.

(‘lines and shadows‘ by @arpixa)
(‘Shadow casting‘ by @poetry fish)
(‘Untitled‘ by @lasina)
(‘On the dark side‘ by @jawdoc2)
(‘ RED ‘ by @dviviano)
(‘high light reverie‘ by @chasread)

Music I’m Digging

Having figured out the problem of songs not being added to my ‘Songs I Love’ lists, my monthly lists are going to be a lot more expansive than those in the past. My May 2019 list clocks in at around 5 ½ hours, with a mix of hip-hop, rap, pop, and a bit of alternative and rock.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Lawfare – Avril Haines, Eric Rosenbach, and David Sanger on U.S. Offensive Cyber Operations // This is an insightful, and nuanced, consideration of the equities which are taken into account when the United States engages in different classes of cyber operations. While the title of the podcast is focused on offensive cyber activities, the same logics can clearly be applied to defensive activities such as those linked with vulnerabilities equities processes or development of activities intended to mitigate harms emitted from foreign adversaries.
  • Lawfare – Jim Scuitto on ‘The Shadow War’ // While Scuitto doesn’t necessarily talk about anything excitingly novel in the summary of his book, he does an absolutely terrific job in summarizing the high-level threats to American (and, by extension, Canadian and Western) national security. From submarine threats, to space threats, to cyber, the threat landscape is remarkably different today as compared to twenty years ago. In terms of responses or solutions, key to the American approach is reconsidering and re-engineering the responses to aggressive actions. Clearly American responses have failed to dissuade actors such as Russia and China in certain spheres, such as aggressive military engagement and cyber espionage and propaganda, and so more directed cyber-based activities meant to expose the corruption of foreign leaders might represent the next logical step for the U.S. military establishment.

Good Reads

  • When the Hard Rains Fall // Welsh has done a terrific job in both outlining the policy and financial and scientific causes that lead to serious, and dangerous, flooding in Toronto while marrying it with superb storytelling. Not only does the article provide a huge amount of information in an impeccably understandable format, but the graphics that accompany the piece in certain sections are almost certain to elicit an emotional reaction. Stories like this demonstrate why it’s important to pay for investigative reporting, while also showcasing how contemporary technologies can improve narratives for clarity and impact.
  • ‘Botanical Sexism’ Could Be Behind Your Seasonal Allergies // In an ironic turn, when trees were routinely planted in urban environments in the 1960s, males of the various species were chosen on the basis that they wouldn’t promote litter by dropping seeds. However, these trees expel significant amounts of pollen which has had the effect of creating ‘pollenpocalypse’ events that both severely aggravate seasonal allergies and leave vast swathes of pollen coating the city.
  • Female Spies and Their Secrets // As in so many fields, women’s contributions to the intelligence and security services were largely erased from history as men replaced them. However, newly recovered and disclosed histories are showcasing the role(s) that women played throughout the second world war to lead underground resistances and otherwise facilitate Allied intelligence efforts.
  • Your threat model is wrong // Robert Graham’s abrasive and direct writing is refreshing, especially when he writes about phishing: “Yes, it’s amazing how easily stupid employees are tricked by the most obvious of phishing messages, and you want to point and laugh at them. But frankly, you want the idiot employees doing this. The more obvious phishing attempts are the least harmful and a good test of the rest of your security — which should be based on the assumption that users will frequently fall for phishing.”
  • After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown // In the United States, some big box stores are attempting to (and succeeding in) reduce their property tax bills by arguing their stores should be valued at millions of dollars less than their current valuation. The result is that small towns, many of which invested in significant infrastructure projects to lure these stores, are at risk of having to reduce their services or defer additional investments that are less-focused on the company in question. Activities like this, combined with the general massive reduction in corporate taxes following the US government’s taxation changes under President Trump, threaten the very ability of small and large towns and cities to invest in infrastructure for the betterment of their residents.
  • The Secret to This Brazilian Coffee? Ants Harvest the Beans // In another instance of how weird and amazing the ecosystems of the earth are, ants that have inhabited an organic coffee farm in Brasil are affecting the taste of the beans in the process of removing the fruit around the beans to feed to their young. Apparently, this has effects on the acidity and taste of certain stronefruits, while also showcasing the interdependence of organic beings in the same ecosystem.
  • How To Make A Relationship Last // The guidance in this piece spoke to me, and reflect how I personally view long- term relationships and choice. Cage nicely summarizes that challenges of continuously choosing to stay in love, and in doing so provides a good set of instructions for others to follow and innovate upon.
  • How To Be A Leader — For Someone Who Hasn’t Been A Leader Before// This is really, really good and quick advice for someone who holds a leadership role, or is about to assume one. They key bits that stuck out include: put others before yourself, act as a role model instead of a boss, and be transparent about where you have weaknesses and work with your team to make sure they’re covered off. In effect, leadership under this model involves being humble, supportive, and aware of the need to improve the life and lots of your team.

Cool Things

  1. Ok, what I really want is to be able to add a title to a photo in Apple Photos on iOS, and then when I export the photo to, say, Instagram for the title to be automatically updated. But I realize I shouldn’t dream of such ‘exceptional’ capabilities and so will settle for adding titles manually in iOS and Instagram. Like an animal.

The Roundup for April 18-May 20, 2019 Edition

(Contemporary by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


For the past several months I’ve been trying go determine just what has been going on with my Apple Music smart playlists. Specifically, I have a playlist that is supposed to update with all the songs that I’ve liked over the past 3 months. However, the playlist hasn’t properly been updating…and now I know why. If you ‘love’ a track in iTunes (i.e., on MacOS) then the track is automatically added to your iCloud Music library and then added to my smart playlist. If, however, you ‘love’ a track in the iOS Music application then the same does not happen: you signal to Apple’s machine learning algorithms that you like the song for purposes of Apple creating playlists for you, but the song won’t be added to any smart playlists that you have created for yourself. What’s worse, there’s no way to go back in time and determine all the songs that you’ve liked in the past in the Music application, so that you can’t retroactively add them to your own ‘loved tracks’ playlist.

This is simply absurd: it means that people who exclusively and heavily use Apple Music and expect a baseline feature parity between the music players have to use a non-mobile ‘solution’ in liking music, if we want to have an ongoing record of what we like. I’d think this was a random bug but, apparently, based on the forums I read this has been an ongoing problem for over a year. I’m incredibly disappointed that Apple has chosen to behave this way and struggle to understand why they’ve let this decision stand.

At present, the only ‘solution’ that I can find is to reflexively go and add albums after I’ve listened to them, if I’ve liked any tracks in them; otherwise I need to manually go through the process of adding tracks to a library (which strikes me as too involved a process). To say this is disappointing is a gross understatement.


Inspiring Quotation

Our relationship with food, wholly transformed since the ’60s in ways both heartening and horrifying, has lost touch with a truth none of us can afford to leave behind: Cooking isn’t a luxury; it’s a survival skill.

Great Photography Shots

I’ve been enjoying Om Malik’s photography for a bunch of time now; I think what I’m really appreciating is the grittiness of the images, combined with the (perception of) low resolution/throwback images from the 1960s and 70s. I don’t know that all of the elements he includes are ones that I want to imitate, but I appreciate the distinctive style that he’s developed over the pat few years. Some of the photos, below, are from his May 6, 2019 outing titled “A morning at the Huntington Beach

(Red-y for the games by Om Malik)
(A moment of reflection by Om Malik)
(Untitled by Om Malik)
(I hope I didn’t miss the waves! by Om Malik)

Music I’m Digging

  • Beyoncé – Lemonade // I hadn’t heard this album until it was recently released across all streaming services. While I knew it had received high praise upon release I’d (effectively) dismissed the praise as just what comes with any release from Beyoncé. Having listened to the album several times I’m still stunned with the beauty and rawness of this album. My only regret is that I didn’t listen to it when it was first released.
  • Lizzo – Cuz I Love You // Lizzo’s previous EP was exceptional in that it showcased her incredible vocal range and ability to create a tight series of works. Her new full-length album is no different: it’s the best kind of pop that is possible and is very, very easy to endlessly consume.
  • Marissa Nadler & Stephen Brodsky – Droneflower // This is a very particular kind of album. It is most definitely not something to listen to when in poor spirits; the lyrics and musical accompaniment is almost designed to depress the spirit and lay one low. This is an album that combines the lightness of an ethereal voice with that of harsh and brutal music. It’s definitely one of the most intellectually intriguing albums I’ve listened to this year.
  • The National – I Am Easy to Find // This album is unlike any other that The National has released: it’s far less moody that earlier albums, and the inclusion of significant female vocals means that the album sounds like The National but not actually of the National. I’m still trying to determine if I like the album or not but, either way, it definitely shows that older bands can develop new sounds!

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • HuffPo Followup – One-on-One with Gerald Butts // This is a wide ranging and deep diving interview with the former principal secretary of Justin Trudeau. Butts is, at points, deeply convincing — specifically around whether pressure was placed on the former Attorney General — but otherwise is insightful for how he regards public service, what matters in advancing liberal socio-political (as opposed to political party) values, and the baseline importance of contributing to the public and our shared democracy.
  • Wag the Doug – “Unfortunately, That Tree Can’t Employ Anybody” // This ongoing popup podcast on the Ford government outlines all of the anti-environment and anti-climate elements in the government’s recent budget. It’s bad. But who expects anything less from a Ford?

Good Reads

  • New type of plastic is a recycling dream // It’s pretty amazing that novel chemical formulas may enable use to continue to use plastics, while mitigating their longevity (and enabling us to subsequently re-repurpose the chemicals that form the plastic in the first place). The question or issue, of course, is whether this technology will be adopted or if the costs of shifting to it mean that few companies will retool their entire production line, thus leaving us with the current wasteful technologies despite technical advances in plastics making.
  • Why Don’t You Just // This very short transcript of a talk at a technical conference nicely summarizes some of the annoyances I have when persons with technical/coding backgrounds interject with solutions to social problems. The ways in which the injections take place often (implicitly) devalue the work that has often been put into the problem at hand and, in the process, elevates the technical/coding skills above those associated with the social sciences and humanities.
  • How Erik Prince Used the Rise of Trump to Make an Improbable Comeback // The Intercept has published yet another terrific close on Erik Prince’s exploits and activities, this time with a focus on how he sought to take advantage of his association with Trump associates to advance his own interests. The article is rife with explanations of how Prince is involved in self-dealing and, also, with people who continue to authorize and facilitate his activities despite knowing his past history. It’s not just shocking that Prince is seeking to illegally be involved in private war activities but, also, that wealthy and influential people keep succumbing to his silver tongue.
  • Phishing and Security Keys // Risher, a security engineer at Google, has a terrific and accessible and blunt piece about the importance of security keys and the relative value they offer in contrast to other kinds of password systems. Left unstated is the issue of when people lack their hardware tokens: technologists and engineers have so-focused on making computing convenient that adding in friction is a hard thing to sell to most users, to say nothing of the issues in ensuring that keys work across all platforms and devices. Still, two factor authentication is a good thing and if you’re particularly paranoid then this piece should explain why you should try and opt for a hardware token to sign into your accounts.
  • Conquering The Carolina Reaper Requires Self-Deceit, Milk, And A Lot Of Barf // I haven’t laughed this hard in a while. The author’s description of his own experiences with epically hot peppers, as well as those in the professional food and pepper eating competitions, is an epic (and painful!) but of food journalism.
  • Status meetings are the scourge – Signal v. Noise // While I largely agree that many status meetings are monsterous wastes of time, I remain moderately unconvinced about the efficacy of posting what you’re doing to your colleagues to update them: face time is valuable because you can compel the attention of your team. Should you do so very often? Probably not. But never? I have a hard time envisioning that.
  • There really is something unique about Tennessee whiskey, study finds. // It is amazing just how much research goes into understanding the nature of alcohols, and how this science could revolutionize the qualities of whiskey and other spirits. I remain excited about just what we can learn about aging processes and how this will affect the quality and quantity of products brought to market!
  • Listening to My Neighbors Fight // I found this to be insightful, mostly as a personal essay that clearly unpacks the situation that almost all urban city dwellers experience at some point. This bit of writing, in particular, seemed to perfectly capture the situation that we’re all in at some point: “You can call the police. But you run the risk of wasting their time and mortifying your neighbors. Even worse, you might possibly put your neighbors in danger if the police were to overreact and hurt them. You can also simply ignore the noise and hope it stops. But then there you are, just you in your home, not knowing when a fight is just a fight—another messy part of the social contract that neighbors learn to ignore as a part of life—and when it’s worse. Google neighbors fighting and you’ll find Reddit threads and advice columns full of people trying to decipher the line between ordinary disputes and domestic violence. When does it become my business?, we want to know.”

Cool Things

  • 33 Deserted Places Around the World // This series of abandoned locations are spectacular, and remind us that the Earth will continue on even as our waste and artifacts are long-abandoned by us.

The Roundup for March 6-April 17, 2019 Edition

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

“How do you know the healing is working?

When you can breathe normally and think calmly during moments that used to make you feel tension. ”

  • Young Pueblo

Great Photography Shots

We’re (finally!) into spring, and so these shots of flowers warmed my heart as the sun was (finally!) starting to warm my skin.

(‘Nature’s perfection!‘ by @di.monheit19)
(‘Happy Birthday Val‘ by Elaine Taylor)
(‘The National Flower of Nicaragua‘ by @the.r.a.b.b.i.t)
(‘Pollinating‘ by @lasina)

Music I’m Digging

  • I listened to a bunch of music throughout March, though only a handful of tracks ended up as new favourite songs.
  • Karen O & Danger Mouse – Lux Prima // This album has been on constant replay for a month; Karen O’s vocals combined with Danger Mouse’s beats are absolutely captivating.
  • The Tea Party – The Edges of Twilight // It’s been years since I’ve listened to the entirely of this album, and when I did I was struck by how novel the sounds were for the mid-90s. Without a doubt this is the best album that The Tea Party released; if you’re into 90s alternative then this is a must-listen.
  • The Chemical Brothers – No Geography // The band pulled out the equipment that they used in the mid-90s to produce this album and does it ever show. The entire album feels like the classic kinds of beats that they produced between the mid-90s to the early-aughts, and that’s a very, very good thing.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • TVO- Debriefing Ontario’s 2019 Budget and TVO – Diving Deep into the 2019 Budget // In the aftermath of the Ontario government’s most recent budget, experts got together to discuss the things that are and are not in the new budget. Significantly, spending for social groups and assistance to disenfranchised persons are significantly down, and while the budget is technically the largest ever produced in Ontario it has grown at a rate below that of inflation. In other words: while there are more pure dollars in this budget the allocation of budget dollars has changed significantly, and the actual value of those dollars has declined. An era of real cuts has begun.
  • The Current – There’s a gender gap in medical data, and it’s costing women their lives, says this author // I was blown away by just how many problems arise because of the gendered ways in which data is(n’t) collected, and how important and lifesaving it is to better account for gender in data collection. Even the way that snow is plowed is gendered, and how it’s done can send disproportionate numbers of women to hospital! I cannot stress how eye opening this particular episode is!
  • Lawfare – James Comey at Verify 2019 // I fundamentally disagree with how Comey articulated certain things, such as what a judicial order to seek content from a secured environment obliges a person to do in enabling such a search. That aside, Comey’s assessment of the broader national security issues and challenges is worth the listen. He’s incredibly smart and articulate, and that’s something that’s sadly lacking in American political debates these days.
  • Lawfare – Michelle Melton on Climate Change as a National Security Threat // Melton’s interview is really, really interesting because it canvasses the arguments for why we should, and should not, want climate change issues to be understood as national security issues. The assessments for why (and why not) to do so are, in part, based on definitions but more significantly pertain to whether we should ‘water down’ national security, whether nationalism is the right way of reflecting on climate change, and more broadly that the core issue might just be the ‘climate realists’ won’t act until its too late regardless of whether we classify climate change as a national security threat.
  • The Sporkful – A Soda Jerk And A Mormon Walk Into A Podcast // Soda is one of those things that I am incredibly careful around; a decade and a half ago, I largely cut it out of my diet and the result was I dropped 10-15 lbs almost overnight. So I respect how delicious it is and, also, how much it can affect the composition of my body. This episode of The Sporkful has me reflecting on whether I should give at least some soda a chance: the flavours discussed in this episode sound magical, and I learned an awful lot about the contemporary carbonation process and why so many sodas are sweet, today, which might not have been in the past.
  • The Current – As Nova Scotia switched to opt-out option for organ donation, expert examines the ethics of government ‘nudging’ // I had, previously, been a pretty big fan of the idea that people are automatically opted-in to organ donation but this episode gave me pause. Specifically, when there is an informed decision the likelihood of a family intervening to prevent a transplant is much lower than when people are just ‘nudged’ to accept and authorize transplants.
  • The Sporkful – Is The Future Of Bourbon Female? // I have a deep and abiding love of bourbon; it’s one of my absolute favourite ‘brown’ spirits. This episode has lots of incredibly useful information and good ways of thinking about why some alcohol is so expensive compared to others, and that ‘old’ is often more expensive by not necessarily preferable to your palettete. The episode also, rather remarkably, gets bourbon distillers to admit that their marketing has historically ignored women and that the reason there is so much innovation in the bourbon space these days is due to the industry recognizing women — a full 50+% of the world’s population — might actually enjoy the drink as well.

Good Reads

  • The Race to Build the World’s Best Bourbon Barrel // Bryson does a terrific job in walking through how bourbon barrels are aged, as well as the things that change with the wood as the aging process unfolds. Certain woods, as an example, have higher tannin contents which befit loner airing periods, and other types of wood close off pores in the wood differently. These kinds of changes, along with how wood for barrels is cut to expose different amounts of wood or char to the alcohol, all affect the ultimate character of the bourbon being made. A great article if distilling and bourbon are things that pure persistently curious about.
  • The Secret History of Fiat Brazil’s Internal Espionage Network and Collaboration With the Military Dictatorship // I’d had no idea just how pervasive the Brazilian dictatorship’s surveillance regime had been, nor the extent to which private companies were complacent and supportive. Cesar’s article unpacks the history of Fiat’s own worker surveillance and, also, how it combined with that of the regime to massively monitor workers within as well as outside of the Fiat factories. In an era where employers seek more awareness of employees’ activities, combined with a diminishment of employee privacy rights, this article is a warning of how things used to be not that long ago and, also, the dangers of where workplace surveillance is various parts of the world is intensifying.
  • A brief history of Wi-Fi security protocols from “oh my, that’s bad” to WPA3 // Salter’s article for Ars Technica is an example of public service writing/journalism. You can clearly understand the trajectory of wifi protocols, why they were replaced at different iterations, and the likely situation that personal routing will be at (from a security standpoint) in the next few days. He’s done a real service to the public, and if you’ve ever wanted to know how and why home internet protocols are updated then this is definitely an article to check out.
  • Can Your Refrigerator Improve Your Dating Life? // This article can only be taken as borderline comedy, though a comedy with some degree of truth to it. I can see how knowing the kinds of habits a potential partner has concerning food would potentially provide useful insights: fresh fruits, nuts, and other raw ingredients? Good (in my eyes). Lots of pre-processed foods and sugary snacks? (Far less good, to me, because I know I need to avoid excesses of those things in my life). The socio-economic assessment that is suggested in the article — that you can figure out who someone is and their likely affluence by looking in their fridge — doesn’t hold weight to me because it presumes an attitude towards cooking and purchasing foods that may be contrasted with reality.
  • Food innovations changed our mouths, which in turn changed our languages // Researchers are exploring whether the way humans pronounce certain words — and changes in pronunciation over time — is linked to the foods that we ate, and how those foods affected the configuration of teeth in our mouths. While it’s still early and ongoing research I think it is so cool that language is adaptive to our cuisine, in addition to other elements such as always seeking the easiest/fastest ways of communicating using verbal means and cues.
  • A Mysterious Infection, Spanning the Globe in a Climate of Secrecy // I understand why artificial intelligence and other major new technological developments provoke interest and concern, especially around how new technologies might prospectively threaten human life. But it seems like far too little attention is being paid to an emerging existential threat: a situation where fungi and bacteria cannot be killed and are capable of spreading widely and easily and quickly. More and more often we find microorganisms that are resistant to everything we can throw at it, and without the benefits of contemporary medicine we won’t need to worry about what AI will do, but whether there are invisible killers lining our walls, clothing, or bathrooms.
  • Why the US still won’t require SS7 fixes that could secure your phone // The SS7 network underpins the global communications infrastructure and remains deeply unsecured, in part due to American trade organizations opposing any and all efforts to improve security standards and regulations. This is another case where profit is being permitted to trump safety and security, the (social) costs be damned.
  • Are You Afraid of Google? BlackBerry Cofounder Jim Balsillie Says You Should Be // While I tend to agree with Balsillie about some of his concerns around data surveillance and the costs it raises to democracy, this fawning profile fundamentally ignores some of his — vis-a-vis BlackBerry’s — failings. Blackberry facilitated mass surveillance in non-democratic regions of the world. It worked with repressive governments to the detriment of free speech and human rights advocates. It’s terrific that he expresses concerns, now, but it’s based on a failure to truthfully engage with the sins of his past. This failure suggests either he doesn’t want to seek atonement or doesn’t think atonement is needed. Either suggestion is deeply problematic.
  • The Pentagon’s Bottomless Money Pit // Taibbi’s article will take you a long time to get through, but’s it’s enormously funny throughout with his dry wit and the comments of auditors of the Pentagon’s books keeping you company through the serious assessment of just how badly managed the Agency’s books are kept. The ultimate assessment of what it will take to fix — namely campaign finance reform — means there’s little hope that the Pentagon will move towards a serious accountancy reform anytime soon, but at the bare minimum the source of the current blight is known…
  • The Global Diversity of French Fry Dips Is a Window Into the Way We Eat Today // I had absolutely no idea there was so much diversity in what could, and is, put on a french fry. I’ve had Belgian fries before and was impressed with the selection of dips available, but now I realize just how many more options there really are to enjoy!

Cool Things